As a new chapter begins at SWA’s innovation Lab, XL: Experiments in Landscape and Urbanism, we want to reflect upon what we’ve learned, accomplished, and hope to tackle in the upcoming months. Over the past year, XL developed four new investigatory projects in our foundational areas of focus: foresight, research, visualization and simulation, and issues. Our foresight project, Urban Sensorium, anticipates future scenarios in climate, ecology, energy, food, and transit for five major cities. Findings from Urban Sensorium will be featured in an exhibition at SPUR Urban Center in San Francisco this fall. In the research category, XL investigated what it means for a material to be “high performance.” The project, Rethinking High Performance Materials, was designed as a tool for SWA designers and made an argument for attributes such as convertibility, responsiveness, and deconstructability. For the visualization and simulation focus, XL tested virtual reality, mixed reality, 360 videos, and spherical panoramas in a project called Immersive Environments. Following the XL study, we released an open-source report on the state of these technologies for use in the AEC industry (see IDEAS post from Jan 25, 2017). Lastly, in our issues category, Mega Margin focused on coastal resiliency. XL developed a speculative proposal for the San Francisco Bay Area that used existing infrastructure and asked if planning for sea level rise could be a catalyst for addressing the region’s housing crisis. We’ve been pleased to have our work from these lab projects featured in Landscape Architecture Magazine, MARK magazine, Landscape Record, and Planning magazine.
Throughout the same period, XL has been working more broadly across the whole firm. We ran innovation workshops in seven SWA studios: Sausalito, San Francisco, Laguna Beach, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, and Shanghai. The goal of the workshops was to develop the innovation lab with firm-wide input, experience, and perspectives. We wanted to hear from everyone about what innovation and research means to them. As we begin the next chapter for XL, we are excited to announce an extension of that collective spirit, the expansion of the innovation lab into a network. SWA’s Executive Committee has moved to designate XL team members in three offices whose work will be closely tied to the past and present project work of each studio while feeding back into larger firm-wide efforts. They will work to address the increasingly complex environmental, technical, and cultural issues of our time through research and innovation initiatives. Over the next few months, XL will collectively pursue new projects in our four foundational areas of focus, daylight past research at SWA to mark its 60th anniversary, and collaborate with colleagues in design research and innovation. We are excited to welcome our new XL team members from our studios in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Laguna Beach.
Anya Domlesky and Emily Schlickman are landscape designers and co-leads of XL. They are based in Sausalito.